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Ramades: The Man with the Golden Gun

Grand Théâtre de Genève
12/07/1999 -  and 8, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22, 26, 29, 31 december 1999
Giuseppe Verdi: Aida
Georgina Lukàcs (Aida), Violeta Urmana (Amneris), Sylvie Pons (Great Prestess), Franco Farina (Radames), Marcel Vanaud (Amonasro), Eglis Silins (Ramphis), Vladimir Vaneev (The King of Egypt), Christer Bladin (Messanger).
Francesca Zambello (Director), Alison Chitty (Set and Costumes), Vivienne Newport (Choreography). Choeurs du Grand Théâtre, Orpheus Choir of Sofia , Orchestre de la Suisse romande, Pinchas Steinberg (Conductor)

The highly criticised Francesca Zambello is back again in Geneva and made the thunders of the public and even the theatre fall. Indeed, even the decor could not hold under the pressure of the boos of a group of spectators and a piece of it, probably detached by the car that swiftly role on to the stage, swung and hit members of the choir, one of which was slightly wounded. After all this, even the conductor, Maestro Steinberg, had to intervene and ask the public to calm down and say that you might like it or not, but Verdi still remains, which provoked a raise of applause, and it was so, for the musical performance was beautiful. Suffice it to say, the emotions were high last night in the Grand Théâtre.

It is a few weeks after the release of the new James Bond that the Grand Théâtre releases its Aida. But what is the similarity between of the ancient Egyptian story and the highly commercial film series. Well, many parallels between the film and this production can be made: the first scene shows the HQ of the Egyptian forces where the staff is working on brand new iMacs (the new generation of Macintosh computers) showing the map of Egypt; Radames gets a golden rifle from the Pharao - who could be mistaken with Q, 007’s gadget man - as the symbol of war; and a new model of Rover rolls in with Radames victorious.

A very confuse set of ballets, the choreography had no structure, with dancers wearing plastic anti-atomic suits, handicaps in wheelchairs, blind men with sticks, lorries with rockets, jeeps, tubes and a lot of smoke... It was closer to some cheap circus performance, than to the majesty of the building which housed such a spectacle. All this does not convey anything, it was announced to be expensive, but it looks cheap and small like in a television science fiction series with a lot of plastic.

It is the singers that saved the performance, since they were at the top of their art. The young Hungarian soprano Geogina Lukács showed us the wealth of her timbre and the quality of her phrasé. Her peaks but also her pianissimo’s are pure delight. There is now doubt that Violeta Urmana is one of the best dramatic mezzo’s of our time. She gives an intense drama to Amneris. Sylvie Pons forgotten in the back stage as grand priestess is also to be praised. The Radames performed by Franco Farina managed with success the much dreaded first aria Celeste Aida and went on beautifully. The duo’s were moving and great beauty, they were calming after the excitement of the first act. The two baritone basses Eglis Silins and Valdir Vaneev gave also the best of themselves to balance a performance that started so badly.

The Orpheus Choir of Sophia dressed as priests sung so pianissimo that complete silence was necessary, which gave an atmosphere of mysticism in our temple of music. The Geneva choir, even if choked by the accident, could still sing, giving grate impression and strength. Not to say that Maestro Steinberg mastered an orchestra that was faithful to the Verdian tradition.

Yesterday an article in the Geneva Le Temps presented an interview with Zambello. Her remarks were somewhat disagreeable. She says she is afraid to loose her public and so she does not hide that she is a populist. At the same time she doesn’t want elephants and a pyramid. Fair enough, the only problem is that the public at large cannot imagine Aida without these elements, so she did put a pyramid, but that was the only Egyptian aspect to it. The way the public imagines Aida is like the one in the Arena of Verona. As the last performance of the millennium the public was maybe waiting for something grand and a bit more traditional. New ideas would have still been welcome, since Geneva is open to innovation. Another of Zambello’s remarks was that the woos are not painful for her but for the singers, that always consider these as directed a bit against them. She ends by saying that there is no reason why the director should come out and bow. Well yesterday, she did come out and bow, and the boos and woos were really for her, since there was not a negative note while the singers were saluting. If her aim is to provoke woos, than she has been successful again, but anyhow, she does not care and the whole theatre could fall apart.

Zoltan Bécsi



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